Dean J. Koepfler/AP

Seattle protesters aim to block Israeli cargo ship over Gaza siege

Protest follows action in Oakland, where activists prevented unloading of similar vessel for days

Palestinian rights activists in the Seattle area picketed the Port of Tacoma on Monday in an attempt to block a commercial Israeli cargo ship from unloading its merchandise.

The action follows a similar protest last week that managed to prevent the delivery of goods for days from a vessel seeking to dock in Oakland, California.

Block the Boat organizers said the ship, which is owned by Israel's Zim Shipping Services Ltd., one of the world’s largest container shipping companies, was scheduled to arrive in the Port of Tacoma on Monday afternoon. Activists planned to block dockworkers from entering the port and prevent the ship from unloading, said organizer Nada Elia, who spoke to Al Jazeera as Monday's action began.

"Our hope is to prevent the unload completely, but even if we just delay it we send the message we want," Elia said.

But according to the group's Twitter account, the action did not delay the the ship's plans "as we had hoped." Instead, after one arrest, more than 100 protesters dispersed by 8 p.m. PDT and were "Regrouping for the next round!" they tweeted.

Organizers said the action is part of a wider Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, modeled after a similar effort targeting South Africa under apartheid. In a press release, they describe the actions as economic sanctions imposed in response to the current siege of the Gaza Strip and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ongoing offensive on Gaza. Most of the dead are civilians, many of them young.

Oakland activists began their blockade on Aug. 16 and prevented the unloading of a Zim ship for days. Activists said their aim is to shut down all West coast ports to Israeli shipping, with activists in Oakland, Seattle, and Vancouver taking part in their own blockades.

Protesters in Oakland said they had successfully prevented the ship from being unloaded, but subsequent media reports suggested the ship had feigned a return to sea before returning to dock where its cargo was unloaded overnight.

Seattle area organizers, aware of that possibility, said that they would have overlapping shifts of activists waiting at the Tacoma port in case the ship docked off-schedule, with the first protesters arriving late Monday and shifts continuing overnight.

“In Oakland, Zim released a false press release in order to redirect protesters — instead of moving to the port of Long Beach as stated the Zim Piraeus returned to the port of Oakland at a different terminal,” Block the Boat organizers said in the release.

“We are checking multiple sources of information trying to update with the most accurate information, but we know they are actively trying to deceive us.”

Zim Shipping did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, a labor union that represents the longshoremen who unload Zim ships at the targeted ports, participated in blockades against South African ships during apartheid. Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman, noted the union's long history of involvement in foreign conflicts but said that the union "had not taken a position on the Israel-Palestine conflict," and that it had no comment on Block the Boat's latest efforts.

In 2010 West Coast protesters managed to block a Zim cargo ship — an action organized in response to Israel’s deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-led humanitarian flotilla aimed at delivering aid to the occupied Gaza Strip. Israeli naval commandos killed 10 people in the mission meant to stop the aid from entering Israeli-controlled waters around the besieged territory.

Al Jazeera reached out to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but had not received any comment at the time of publication.

Michael Pizzi contributed reporting.

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